Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Chinese government officials and media have expressed outrage against the United States, which authorized the passage of a warship near an artificial island built by Beijing in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
Internet and social networks have been besieged by angry citizens demanding a firm and determined response from China. Sources and the executive leaders of the Communist Party say the move was "illegal" and a threat to the "sovereignty" of the country. However, the US Navy immediately responded that it cannot exclude "doing it again" in the near future.
Yesterday morning, the destroyer USS Lassen infringed on the the limit of 12 nautical miles which China claims near the Subi and Mischief atolls, in the Spratly archipelago. Washington has confirmed the operation, emphasizing that it is part of the "Freedom of navigation" program in the seas of the Asia-Pacific region. It has not ruled out sending other ships in the area in the near future. An open challenge to the territorial claims of China, already at loggerheads with the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has summoned the US ambassador in Beijing to protest the move. Lu Kang, a spokesman of the ministry said that the government "will respond resolutely against the provocative actions committed by any nation." He added that the suspect vessel had been "traced and warned" while entering in the disputed waters.
The Global Times, an (English) Communist Party newspaper, published an editorial critical of the Pentagon’s "obvious provocations" towards China. Chinese internet users are demanding a harsh response from the authorities, in the face of a government that can boast the world’s biggest army. One commentator on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo says that Americans "are on our doorstep. Complaints are useless. "
The US government is unwilling to back down and has announced new missions in the area, regardless of the Chinese threats. The US Defense Secretary Ash Carter emphasized that "we'll fly, sail, and work wherever international laws permit us to". Department spokesman Bill Urban added that "the United States are conducting routine operations in the South China Sea, according to international law." And a government official, claiming anonymity, assures: "There will be more”.
China’s construction of airstrips and artificial atolls in contested areas is further confirmation of Beijing’s "imperialist" policy in the region, which has seen an increasing acceleration in the last two years. For the United States and the Philippines these artificial islands represent a new threat in the region and in the past Washington had not ruled out the navigation of its ships within the area claimed by China for its exclusive use, further ratcheting up already high tensions in the area.
In recent years, Vietnam and the Philippines - which has taken its case to a UN court - have shown growing concern over China's "imperialism" in the South and East China Seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational".
Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it, with a total value of at least $ 5 trillion.